CROP UPDATE: Eating winter spinach is almost like eating candy

Posted: Aug. 14, 2014 8:56 am Updated: Sep. 11, 2014 1:15 pm


Every wish you could eat fresh greens all winter long, harvested the day before from your garden?

It's not difficult to do; you just need to do some planning. I've done it for the past five-plus years and can tell you that unless you've eaten winter spinach, you can't imagine that a vegetable could be so sweet in taste.

Spinach is one of the most cold tolerant of plants. As the weather turns cold, the cells of the spinach plant produce a higher amount of sugar to help keep the plant from freezing. Sugar freezes at a much colder temperature than water. Eating winter spinach is almost like eating candy.

And spinach isn't the only crop you can grow during the winter. There's many more, including arugula, beets, carrots, many of the oriental vegetables (bok choi, pok choi), turnip, and more. Not all will survive the entire winter, but many can tolerate some pretty cold weather, especially if you've provided a shelter.

The shelter provides a "blanket" to help moderate temperatures and also to keep desiccating winter winds from drying out the vegetables. A row cover and a sheet of plastic placed over a set of hoops are all you need to ensure winter long production.

The row cover should be placed first, as it will help store heat, plus it allows sunlight, rain and air to penetrate. Then when temperatures begin to get really cold, a sheet of plastic placed over the row cover becomes necessary. This structure is called a low tunnel.

A metal conduit (one-half-inch in diameter) and bent into hoops with the ends of the hoops placed 8 to 10 inches deep in the soil provides the structure. They need to be placed at 4-foot intervals. You'll need sandbags to hold both the row cover and the plastic in place.

On Aug. 25 at 6 p.m, we'll have a field day to demonstrate the construction of a "low tunnel." We'll also discuss the uses of cover crops in vegetable production and how their use can improve your soils.

The field day will be held on Terripin Farms, just northeast of Quincy.

To get to the farm from I-72, travel east 2.5 miles on Wisman Lane/ Columbus Road to 1250 E. Turn north and go about .5 mile, and we'll meet by the bridge.